NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
A Super Bowl commercial costs more than ever, but here's one way advertisers can get the most bang for their buck: Produce a tasteless ad that television executives reject, make it publicly available, and let the free publicity flow.
This year at least four advertisers -- Anheuser-Busch, GoDaddy.com, Ford Motor Company, and Airborne, a cold remedy maker -- have captured headlines for controversial ads that were pulled from Sunday's Eagles-Patriots matchup.
Money can't buy that kind of media exposure. Not unless, of course, you are a Super Bowl advertiser that just shelled out a record $2.4 million for a 30-second spot on what will be the most widely watched TV show of the year.
After last year's unsavory lineup and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the live halftime show, the pressure is on to make sure ads are nothing but good, clean fun.
"I think the wardrobe malfunction will have changed this year's ads significantly," said Bernice Kanner, the author of The Super Bowl of Advertising: How the Commercials Won the Game. "The pendulum has swung so far the other way."
So say good-bye to the flatulent Budweiser horse and the crotch-biting dog. Don't expect to see Mike Ditka hawking impotency drugs. And, yes, recent reports that Mickey Rooney's bare butt was due to make an appearance are true -- but Fox, the News Corp. (Research) unit that is airing Sunday's game, spared viewers that searing image by rejecting the ad.
Anheuser-Busch's yanked its planned spoof of the Jackson breast brouhaha last year after game and network officials balked.
Ford Motor this week pulled an ad for its luxury Lincoln SUV after a Roman Catholic sex abuse victims group complained. The ad portrayed a clergyman caressing the vehicle and then listing "Lust" as his next sermon topic on the church's outdoor sign.
And Fox last week rejected flat out an ad for GoDaddy.com, a reseller of Internet domain names, that featured a buxom brunette gyrating before an unidentified network censorship. Yet another ad like it passed the propriety test and will air this weekend.
Bob Parsons, GoDaddy.com's president, declined to say what Fox found objectionable about the one take but not the other, but he doesn't think the company crossed the line.
"This year everybody is on a pretty tight leash," grumbled Parsons, who subsequently posted the banned ad on his Web log.
Up and up and up
The $2.4 million average price for a half-minute ad is a 6 percent increase from 2004 and more than double the cost from a decade ago. Fox said Thursday that all 59 slots had been sold.
The Super Bowl has long commanded the highest ad rates of any television program. By way of comparison, 30-second ads on prime time typically run about $400,000, though it's worth noting that last year's NBC "Friends" finale cost advertisers $2 million a slot.
As for the halftime show, last year's scandal over Jackson's bare breast didn't dampen prices any. Ameriquest Mortgage is paying a record $15 million to sponsor what's sure to be a straitlaced intermission featuring Paul McCartney. The price is 50 percent higher than what America Online paid in 2004.
Jack Myers, an independent media analyst, thinks there's no end to the upward spiral of Super Bowl costs, especially as advertisers struggle to reach consumers enamored of ad-skipping devices.
"The Super Bowl is a way to reach to hard-to-get audiences," said Myers.
Kanner, for one, doubts that networks ever get the published rates for a Super Bowl spot. "It's like the sticker price on a car. Nobody pays that amount," she said.
She estimates that Fox is receiving closer to $1.7 million per 30-second slot.
Lou D'Ermilio, a Fox Sports spokesman, declined to comment on ad prices. "The marketplace for the game this year has been very strong," he said.
No smut, lots of celebrities
Puritanism may be the order of the day, but that doesn't mean that the ads won't be funny. It just means marketers will have to work a lot harder to get laughs.
They appear as eager as ever to try.
Frito-Lay, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and Ford Motor are among the perennial Super Bowl advertisers who are back in the game this year. Taking a pass are Monster Worldwide, the job search Web site operator, Procter & Gamble and its newly-announced merger partner, Gillette. Rookies include CareerBuilder.com, GoDaddy.com and countertop maker Cosentino USA.
"The ads aren't dull," said Kanner, who called the ones she's seen both irreverent and cheeky. "But they're much less in-your-face."
For some viewers, GoDaddy.com, a closely held Scottsdale, Ariz. company, might bring back memories of a time not so long ago when cash-rich Internet companies populated Super Bowl advertising. When the stock market bubble burst starting in 2000, so did many of these companies.
"The Super Bowl is the perfect medium for us," said Parsons, who estimates that roughly a third or more of the game's viewers have high-speed Internet access and, hence, are his target audience.
Andrew Donchin, director of national broadcast for media buying firm Carat USA, says the payoff for Super Bowl advertisers is a no-brainer.
"The Super Bowl is like a national holiday," he said. "People are going to sit and watch commercials more intently than they ever have."
If they're any good, viewers can watch a post-game instant replay of them all on The NFL Network. If the ads bomb, there's always The Lingerie Bowl on pay-per-view. Or the possibility of another errant streaker rushing the field.